Sunday, October 27, 2013

Steve Reeves as Li'l Abner

I am fascinated by the process of casting a movie; especially finding out who some of the original possibilities were. At that point, I try to wrap my brain around what that movie might have turned out to be had one of those original possibilities turned into a reality. One of those most famous is Shirley Temple as Dorothy in "The Wizard of Oz" 1939); one of the lesser known ones would be the one I am illustrating today.

The 1959 film "Li'l Abner" is all but forgotten today, including its leading man, Peter Palmer. The photos in today's post show bodybuilder and former Mr. America, Steve Reeves, in a few photos from 1958 that show him wearing a Li'l Abner costume. I am guessing that these were shot near the beach.

Reeves was no Shakespeare when it came to acting, but physically, he was a good match for the title character of the movie which was based on a comic strip character. Abner was a 6' 3" hillbilly, who was naïve and simple-minded. He was known for his strength, not his brains.

For whatever reason, Peter Palmer won the role over Reeves and went on to a very modest career as an actor.

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K. Martinez said...

As a kid, I remember reading Lil' Abner in the Sunday Comics that came in the Sunday newspapers I delivered along my morning paper route.

I watched the movie once on television in the 1960s and thought it was strange. I mostly remember seeing Julie Newmar (Catwoman) in it.

On another note, I'm glad Judy Garland won the role of Dorothy.

DBenson said...

Peter Palmer, it should be noted, created the part on Broadway. In fact, most of the Broadway cast was carried over, except for Edie Adams who created the part of Daisy Mae. Hollywood wanted a younger and less well-known actress, and Adams was familiar for her TV work with husband Ernie Kovacs. Anyway, the part of Abner demanded a solid voice and comedy chops as well as shoulders. Most of Palmer's career was in music, and in later interviews he seemed pretty happy with how his life worked out.

The movie IS strange-looking. It was a very close version of the play, keeping the stylized sets, costumes and makeups for a very cartoony look. The performances are broad, in keeping with the outrageous tone of the comic strip.

As you may have guessed, I like the movie and its cast. Even with the 1950s satire and soundstage look it holds up surprisingly well; the rare Broadway musical that made it to the screen largely intact.